Theology for Beginners is blowing my mind

This past Trinity Sunday, also known as Casual Heresy Sunday, I thought I’d dig up Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed (affiliate link) and read the kids a few passages of Real Theology™  to correct some of the dumb things we heard that day.

We had tried reading it several years ago and got terribly bogged down. The kids were just angry and baffled, and we couldn’t make any headway, so we quit.

I remember thinking, last week, that I knew a lot more about what the Trinity isn’t than about what it is, and this is certainly still true. But after reading only a few chapters of this book, I discovered we also can know a lot more about the Trinity than I ever imagined, and it’s blowing my mind.

So we’re making this our new project, and keeping on reading, a chapter or part of a chapter at night several times a week. We often stop and re-read a paragraph, sometimes more than once; and we keep looking up the beginning of the Gospel of John. It would not be unreasonable to read each chapter two or three times before going on to the next, but I want to keep moving, because we have such a poor record of finishing books.

I’ve been so desperate for something like this — not just for the kids, but for myself. Sometimes your spiritual life is flat and uninspired, and you just have to keep the faith and power through; but sometimes there really is something you can do about it. There may be things you didn’t know about God that you will be very glad to know! Going to Mass, making the sign of the cross, praying a Hail Mary . . . it all feels new and exciting, almost perilous! In a good way. There’s just so much there, and I’ve been so casual about it all.

Are the kids getting much from the book? I’m not sure. Their various responses seem to be more about personality and type of intellect than age. My nine-year-old is completely on fire about it. Damien and I are agog. Even some of the more jaded can’t-we-just-get-back-to-Mario-Kart kids have questions. And I do think that there’s value in seeing that other people are excited about the Faith, even if you aren’t feeling it yourself right then.

At very least, this book puts to rest for good the idea that you can plow through the Baltimore Catechism for First Communion prep and then you know all there is to know. Not by a long shot, hot stuff.

This book is a tremendous gift. Some people think that, when we call some article of faith a mystery, we mean that it’s just too huge and weird, and our brains can’t even handle it, so we just need to let it be. Instead, mysteries are, as my husband says, a deep, deep pool. You can dive in and never get to the bottom, but that doesn’t mean you should just linger on the shore, feeling thirsty and hot like a dummy. Sheed says we have an obligation to try to understand more about the God we worship. Why would we not? What are our brains for, if not that?

I bought the paperback and then the Kindle edition, too, because we managed to lose the physical copy but we need to keep reading. The concepts are incredibly dense but the language is crystal clear, and it doesn’t come across as dated. If you feel that your faith is stuck at an elementary level, I cannot recommend this book enough.


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10 thoughts on “Theology for Beginners is blowing my mind”

  1. those who enjoy this short version may also enjoy the larger ‘Theology and Sanity’ by Sheed.

  2. For some reason I can’t find the kindle version. The link above just leads to a general deals page and I can’t find it in the deals either.

  3. I love Frank Sheed’s books, especially this one. I have an old copy in hardcover. Another author worth reading is Hubert van Zeller. I think what is so satisfying about the “vintage” Catholic writers is that they were so well grounded in philosophy, the handmaiden of theology. They are also writing in a time when good and beautiful prose was valued. They write from a certain confidence and about the Faith that I rarely see today.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation, I intend to grab a Kindle copy.

    Another good resource for middle schoolers and teens (and maybe your exceptional 9 year old!) is “YouCat,” the Youth Catechism, originally inspired by Pope Benedict XVI and published in German.
    I bought it as a resource for the kids, but it’s so good that I love reading it, too! Highly recommend.

  5. My mom required us to read that in high school and she’s been giving it away to people at the drop of a hat for years. I love it too.
    The only danger is that Sheed is *so* extremely lucid that you can think, “The Trinity? Oh, yeah, got it!” when that’s not really the case… but lucid is not at all a bad thing. 🙂 I like that it builds, so everything hangs together instead of being Doctrine A over here and Apparently Unrelated Doctrine Q over there.

  6. I’ve heard good things about this book for years–maybe it’s time to actually get my hands on a copy!

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